Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille (September 10, 1897July 8, 1962) was a French writer. Although subsequent philosophers have been significantly influenced by his thought, Bataille tended not to refer to himself as a philosopher.

Life and work

Bataille was born in Billom (Auvergne). He initially considered priesthood and went to a Catholic seminary but renounced his faith in 1922.

Bataille attended the École des Chartes in Paris and graduated in February 1922. Bataille is often referred to, interchangeably, as an archivist and a librarian. While it is true that he worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale, his work there was with medallion collections (he also published scholarly articles on numismatics), and his thesis at the École des Chartes was a critical edition of the medieval manuscript L’Ordre de chevalerie which he produced directly by classifying the eight manuscripts from which he reconstructed the poem. After graduating he moved to the School of Advanced Spanish Studies in Madrid.

Founder of several journals and literary groups, Bataille is the author of an oeuvre both abundant and diverse: readings, poems, essays on innumerable subjects (on the mysticism of economy, in passing of poetry, philosophy, the arts, eroticism). He sometimes published under pseudonyms, and some of his publications were banned. He was relatively ignored during his lifetime and scorned by contemporaries such as Jean-Paul Sartre as an advocate of mysticism, but after his death had considerable influence on authors such as Michel Foucault, Philippe Sollers and Jacques Derrida, all of whom were affiliated with the Tel Quel journal. His influence is felt in the work of Jean Baudrillard, as well as in the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan.

Initially attracted to Surrealism, Bataille quickly fell out with its founder André Breton, although Bataille and the Surrealists resumed cautiously cordial relations after World War II. Bataille was a member of the extremely influential College of Sociology in France between World War I and World War II. The College of Sociology was also comprised of several renegade surrealists. He was heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Marx, Marcel Mauss, the Marquis de Sade, Alexandre Kojève, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the last of whom he defended in a notable essay against appropriation by the Nazis.

Fascinated by human sacrifice, he founded a secret society, Acéphale, the symbol of which was a decapitated man. According to legend, Bataille and the other members of Acéphale each agreed to be the sacrificial victim as an inauguration; none of them would agree to be the executioner. An indemnity was offered for an executioner, but none was found before the dissolution of Acéphale shortly before the war. The group also published an eponymous review, concerned with Nietzsche's philosophy, and which attempted to think what Jacques Derrida has called an "anti-sovereignty". Bataille thus collaborated with André Masson, Pierre Klossowski, Roger Caillois, Jules Monnerot, Jean Rollin and Jean Wahl.

Bataille drew from diverse influences and used diverse modes of discourse to create his work. His novel Story of the Eye, published under the pseudonym Lord Auch (literally, Lord "to the shithouse" — "auch" being short for "aux chiottes," slang for telling somebody off by sending them to the toilet), was initially read as pure pornography, while interpretation of the work has gradually matured to reveal the considerable philosophical and emotional depth that is characteristic of other writers who have been categorized within "literature of transgression." The imagery of the novel is built upon a series of metaphors which in turn refer to philosophical constructs developed in his work: the eye, the egg, the sun, the earth, the testicle.

Other famous novels include the posthumous My Mother (which would become the basis of Ma mère, a French movie written and directed by Christophe Honoré) and The Blue of Noon. The latter, with its necrophilic, political, and autobiographical undertones, is a much darker treatment of contemporary historical reality.

During World War II, he wrote a Summa Atheologica (the title parallels Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica) which comprises his works "Inner Experience," "Guilty," and "On Nietzsche." After the war he composed his The Accursed Share, and founded the influential journal Critique. His singular conception of "sovereignty" was discussed by Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Luc Nancy and others.

Bataille's first marriage was to actress Sylvia Bataille; they divorced in 1934, and she later married the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Bataille also had an affair with Colette Peignot, who died in 1938. In 1946 Bataille married Diane de Beauharnais, with whom he had a daughter.

Key concepts

Base materialism

Bataille developed base materialism during the late 1920s and early 1930s as an attempt to break with mainstream materialism. Bataille argues for the concept of an active base matter that disrupts the opposition of high and low and destabilises all foundations. In a sense the concept is similar to Spinoza's neutral monism of a substance that encompasses both the dual substances of mind and matter posited by Descartes, however it defies strict definition and remains in the realm of experience rather than rationalisation. Base materialism was a major influence on Derrida's deconstruction, and both share the attempt to destabilise philosophical oppositions by means of an unstable "third term." Bataille's notion of Base Materialism may also be seen as anticipating Althusser's conception of aleatory materialism or "materialism of the encounter," which draws on similar atomist metaphors to sketch a world in which causality and actuality are abandoned in favor of limitless possibilities of action.



Primary literature

Complete works

Georges Bataille, Œuvres complètes (Paris: Gallimard)

  • Volume 1: Premiers écrits, 1922-1940: Histoire de l'œil - L'Anus solaire - Sacrifices - Articles.
  • Volume 2: Écrits posthumes, 1922-1940
  • Volume 3: Œuvres littéraires: Madame Edwarda - Le Petit - L'Archangélique - L'Impossible - La Scissiparité - L'Abbé C. - L'être différencié n'est rien - Le Bleu du ciel.
  • Volume 4: Œuvres littéraires posthumes: Poèmes - Le Mort - Julie - La Maison brûlée - La Tombe de Louis XXX - Divinus Deus - Ébauches.
  • Volume 5: La Somme athéologique I: L'Expérience intérieure - Méthode de méditation - Post-scriptum 1953 - Le Coupable - L'Alleluiah.
  • Volume 6: La Somme athéologique II: Sur Nietzsche - Mémorandum - Annexes.
  • Volume 7: L'économie à la mesure de l'univers - La Part maudite - La limite de l'utile (Fragments) - Théorie de la Religion - Conférences 1947-1948 - Annexes.
  • Volume 8: L'Histoire de l'érotisme - Le surréalisme au jour le jour - Conférences 1951-1953 - La Souveraineté - Annexes.
  • Volume 9: Lascaux, ou La naissance de l’art - Manet - La littérature et le mal - Annexes
  • Volume 10: L’érotisme - Le procès de Gilles de Rais - Les larmes d’Eros
  • Volume 11: Articles I, 1944-1949
  • Volume 12: Articles II, 1950-1961
  • Georges Bataille: Une liberté souveraine: Textes et entretiens, 2004. (Articles, Book Reviews and Interviews not included in Oeuvres Complètes, Michel Surya Ed.)

Works published in French:

Posthumous works:

Translated works:

Secondary literature

  • Ades, Dawn, and Simon Baker, Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006).
  • Boldt-Irons, Leslie Anne (ed.), On Bataille: Critical Essays (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995).
  • Connor, Peter, Georges Bataille and the Mysticism of Sin (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
  • Derrida, Jacques, "From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978).
  • Gill, Carolyn, Bataille: Writing the Sacred, (London: Routledge, 1995).
  • ffrench, Patrick, The Cut (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  • Gemerchak, Christopher, The Sunday of the Negative: Reading Bataille Reading Hegel (Albany: SUNY Press, 2003).
  • Hill, Leslie, "Bataille, Klossowski, Blanchot: Writing At The Limit" (Oxford University Press, 2001).
  • Hollier, Denis, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille (MIT Press, 1992).
  • Hussey, Andrew, Inner Scar: The Mysicism of Georges Bataille (Amsterdam: Rudopi, 2000).
  • Land, Nick, The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (an essay on atheistic religion) (London: Routledge, 1992).
  • Nancy, Jean-Luc, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis & Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).
  • Joseph Nechvatal, Immersive Excess in the Apse of Lascaux, Technonoetic Arts 3, no3. 2005
  • Noys, Benjamin, Georges Bataille: a critical introduction (London: Pluto, 2000).
  • Perniola, Mario, L'instant étérnel. Bataille et la pensée de la marginalité, translated by François Pelletier, preface to the French edition by the author, Paris, Méridien/Anthropos, 1981, ISBN 2-86563-024-2.
  • Richardson, Michael, Georges Bataille (London: Routledge, 1994).
  • Sollers, Philippe, Writing and the Experience of Limits (Columbia University Press, 1982).
  • Stoekl, Allan (ed.), On Bataille: Yale French Studies 78 (1990). Includes: Bataille, "Hegel, Death and Sacrifice"; Bataille, "Letter to René Char on the Incompatibilities of the Writer"; Jean-Luc Nancy, "Exscription"; Rebecca Comay, "Gifts without Presents: Economies of 'Experience' in Bataille and Heidegger"; Jean-Joseph Goux, "General Economics and Postmodern Capitalism."
  • Surya, Michel, Georges Bataille: an intellectual biography, trans. by Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (London: Verso, 2002).


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